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Engaging Methuen Readers


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Bookish Confessions: the right book at the right time

I checked out Lev Grossman’s The Magicians from the library five times.  Not because I loved it so much and wanted to re-read it, but because it just didn’t “take” on tries one through four.  What kind of an idiot wastes their time trying to read a book, voluntarily, over and over again without getting into it, especially when there is access to an almost infinite number of other interesting books?  A book nerd.  A very determined book nerd.  A book nerd who is studying readers’ advisory and has had the famous phrase “the right book for the right person at the right time” drilled into them.

When it came out in 2009, The Magicians garnered rave reviews from professional journals and readers alike, as a noteworthy literary fantasy for adults.  That sounds great, said I, and picked up the book, only to return it largely unread.  Maybe it will catch my attention more if I read it in the winter, I thought?  Nope.  Over the years, several friends and colleagues suggested it to me as a book I would like.  Yes, but no. I guess it was just the wrong time.

Cut to the pandemic of 2020 and stay-at-home orders…I’m working from home and have The Magicians at hand.  With no reading pressures on me and time to spare, I finally found the right book at the right time.  I am a little over halfway through the book and all indicators point to a satisfactory finish in the next week.  All I had to do to get into the book was wait for a world-wide pandemic.  Who knew?


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An “Outlander” Fan and the Binge Watch Dilemma

Cover image for OutlanderAs an Outlander fan, of both the books and the series, I often have to wrestle with the Book vs Film dilemma. Diana Gabaldon has written a series of 8 books depicting the life and times of a family. This is no ordinary family but one that includes a nurse who had time-traveled from the 20th century and fallen in love with a Scottish laird who leads his clan with strength and loyalty through years of trials both in Scotland and the New World, North Carolina.

Because these books are so dense and filled with imagery and detail, it would be almost impossible to do justice to all of the myriad side plots and characters that Gabaldon weaves throughout this series. The producers of the film version have been faced with the Cover image for Outlander. Season 1, v. 1, Widescreenchallenge of winnowing down the main story and guiding the viewers on a journey of action and romance, without losing the underlying love and tenderness of the multitude of characters that populate the community known as Fraser’s Ridge. The producers and filmmakers adhere to the adage put forth in PIrates of the Caribbean by none other than “Jack Sparrow” – “they’re just guidelines”.

It must be understood that Gabaldon, in her writing, is able to allow us to really feel and understand the emotions and reasoning that propel the characters to do the things they do, and this is truly an enhancement over the film version. However, as one who is watching with a film-only spouse, the temptation is always there to insert a “wasn’t that way in the book” comment. While it might not have been that way in the book, it doesn’t take away from the acting and the writing that brings the story to life on the screen.

All in all, it’s just a guideline…sit back, relax and know that even if it didn’t happen that way in the book, it’s still darn good and because I’ve read the books I can understand more clearly the motivations and humor that shore up the story. I’m good either way!!

∼ Kirsten,  Head of Reference Services


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When Children’s Fantasy Became A Reality

Fantasy isn’t new. The Brothers Grimm recorded fantastical stories back in the 19th century, and prior to that time, tales of dragons and warriors of stunning prowess dominated ancient literature and mythology. Originally, however, there was no distinction between fantasy for adults and fantasy for children. In fact, when the Grimms originally published the fairy and folk tales they collected from the hardworking people of far-flung corners of Europe, they were stunned to realize that well-off city people were reading them to their children. These were dark, gory tales, replete with violence and rape, that expressed complicated adult topics in metaphorical language. The Grimms had never dreamed that people would try to use them as bedtime stories.

Needless to say, they hastily printed a more kid-friendly “small edition” of their fairy tales, filing down some of the grittier details and adding a lot of pictures and Christian imagery.

The whole idea of kid-friendly stories was relatively new to the 1800s. Prior to that, kids were, at best, little adults. At worst, they could be put to work on a farm or in a factory. Childhood wasn’t considered a special time until industrialization generated a middle class, which then advocated against child labor and for education. We have an 1800s reform movement, which arose in reaction to the Industrial Revolution, to thank for the idea that people should spend their early years being educated.

Once people decided to start teaching kids instead of exploiting them, they quickly realized the value of letting kids read. Already, public libraries had caught on as a way to improve the masses and make them content in their social stations, although the reality of libraries often skewed toward entertaining the masses and making them question the status quo.

Thus it was with the development of children’s fantasy. Brothers Grimm stories painted over with Christian morality paved the way for Victorian fables like Charles Kingsley’s The Water Babies, an 1863 morality story so mawkish and racist that it’s a little shocking that it was ever considered a mainstay of children’s literature. Nevertheless, it was an entertaining way to force moral and social education down the throats of children. Speaking Likenesses by Christina Rosetti (1874) fell along the same moral themes. Even Oscar Wilde’s fables usually imparted a lesson of some kind. However, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, published just two years after The Water Babies, moved away from moral education and proved much more enduringly popular with both adults and children. Despite its wacky, nonsensical veneer, Alice was essentially about growing up in a world that often seemed distressingly random and absurd.

Subsequent fantasies for children, like J.M. Barrie’s early 20th-century novelization of his popular play, Peter Pan, explored territory that the Grimms might have recognized. Barrie’s titular hero, Peter, wore dead leaves, kidnapped children, never aged, and flew – all traits of a ghost in a story that grappled with mortality. The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, which debuted in 1900, also opted to entertain rather than preach and tapped themes of responsibility and friendship.

The 20th century would see a boom in children’s fantasy literature. In 1950, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe sought to revive the Christian allegory couched in an entertaining fantasy novel for children, while The Fellowship of the Ring generated a British mythology in 1954. Children’s fantasy continued to flourish in the 1960s, when books by Madeline L’Engle would follow in the religiously overt footsteps of C.S. Lewis, while others by Ursula LeGuin would seek to express more primal, mythologically inspired themes.

Since the 1960s, children’s fantasy has burgeoned to include works as diverse as Roald Dahl’s Matilda and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. They run the gamut of themes and serve a vast array of audiences. Recently, fantasy for children has begun to focus on authors and characters of marginalized demographics, who haven’t generally historically experienced a great deal of representation in this genre. Female authors, authors of color, and LGBTQ authors are all experiencing an increase in representation among children’s fantasy.

As children’s fantasy continues to grow in popularity, it will continue to evolve to suit new generations of reading children. Where it goes next is anybody’s guess. However, wherever that is, both kids and adults will avidly follow.


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One Minute Book Review: Warriors by Erin Hunter

Cover image for Into the WildAs a child, I’ve grown up reading Warriors since the third grade. I’m now in my second year of college, and I continue to keep updated with the series. I just can’t bear to leave these characters and their intricate plots behind. In my opinion, Warriors may be simply written but the ideas and the themes are definitely complex. After all, what’s so childish about politics, murder, and forbidden love?
Characters are pushed to their breaking point, and if the series were written for an older audience, I think we would see even more turmoil. However, as it’s marketed for children, most scenes are limited to the true gore and turmoil it could’ve portrayed. The authors could’ve gone further and beyond if they targeted an older audience. Personally, I believe targeting the books to an older audience would have allowed the authors freedom to expand their horizons on more “adult” topics. And as the series carries on, it loses the edge and spunk that the first mini-series held.  Are the ideas underdeveloped? Yes, truthfully, they are. Is Warriors worth the read then? It definitely still is.

                                                                                                                                     ∼ Samm, Library Page
Warriors Series by Erin Hunter
(first title in series:  Warriors:  Into the Wild)
New York : HarperCollins, 2003


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One Minute Book Review: Jackaby by William Ritter

In Jackaby, Abigail Rook, who has recently arrived in New Fiddleham, becomes assistant to R. F. Jackaby.  Jackaby is an eccentric detective of supernatural and inexplicable occurrences, whose last assistant has been turned into water fowl.  Jackaby’s home houses himself, a ghost named Jenny, Douglas, the aforementioned assistant turned duck, and now Abigail. The author does an amazing job of introducing us to the characters while still shrouding them in mystery.

With a string of murders occurring in New Fiddleham, Jackaby and Abigail set out to discover who, or what, is committing them. With the help of Officer Charlie Cane, they discover a banshee who reveals the next victim.  While keeping the identity and species of the killer in question, Ritter keeps it interesting and fast paced, never leaving a dull moment. He leads readers on an adventure with plot twists and even a few things that go bump in the night. It is a great read for anyone looking to be scared or for lovers of lore.

∼ Bistany, Library Page

Jackaby
by William Ritter
Chapel Hill, North Carolina : Algonquin, c2014

 

 

 


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Snow-ence Fiction

Massachusetts just had its first big snow of the season – but not its last! We greet snow with a unique mixture of delight and misery. Our mixed feelings produce a sense of mystical wonder surrounding white-frosted pines, falling flakes of crystal ice, and yeti. This may be why snow features so prominently in speculative fiction. If you just can’t get enough stark, ominous white snowscapes in your life, try these reads.

 

snowpiercer_vol_1_the_escape_coverSnowpiercer by Jacques Lob and Jean-Marc Rochette

This list would not be complete without this graphic novel classic, which was recently turned into a gripping, atmospheric film. Humanity is doomed: worldwide arctic temperatures have made the planet uninhabitable. The last survivors travel endlessly on a train that represents the last vestige of the technological marvel that was civilization. But there *is* a kind of society: one that privileges the few first-class travelers and grinds the rest underfoot. When the third class passengers revolt, the first class discovers that there’s nowhere to run…

 

01The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman

Young Lyra, a child of mysterious nobility, haunts the Oxford halls with her daemon. But a great conspiracy is afoot that threatens the very essence of humanity, and Lyra is at its heart. In order to prevent disaster, she will have to journey into the Arctic north, befriending armored polar bears and witches.

 

 

41mckp1f7fl-_sx332_bo1204203200_Let Me In by John Ajvide Lindqvist

Also published as Let the Right One In, this book has been the subject of two films. There’s a new girl next door. Oskar is immediately fascinated, and not only because she seems old beyond her years. Eli only comes out at night…and she’s interested in Oskar for a much darker reason. As snow falls on Sweden, a young boy will come to know that some horror resides in which promises you make and keep.

 

 

6068551Shiver by Maggie Steifvater

The wolves behind Grace’s house watch her every winter. But one in particular is more than just hungry. In the summer, he’ll turn into a human, and when that happens, he and Grace will meet again. This time, sparks will fly. Steamy romance will…romanticate. This book draws a lot of valid comparisons to Twilight. It’s Twilight with snow and a wolf. So if you love Stephanie Meyers, you’ll love this. If not, well, better go with Snowpiercer.


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Review: “Perdido Street Station” by China Mieville

The back of Perdido Street Station dismally fails to capture it in summary. Oddly, it succeeds for exactly this reason, drawing people into the book through what are essentially false premises. By the time the hapless reader understands that they have been duped, it is too late. They are too far into the snare and there is no escape from the land of Bas-Lag.

Here’s the blurb:

Beneath the towering bleached ribs of a dead, ancient beast lies the city of New Crobuzon, where the unsavory deal is stranger to no one–not even to Isaac, a gifted and eccentric scientist who has spent a lifetime quietly carrying out his unique research. But when a half-bird, half-human creature known as the Garuda comes to him from afar, Isaac is faced with challenges he has never before encountered. Though the Garuda’s request is scientifically daunting, Isaac is sparked by his own curiosity and an uncanny reverence for this curious stranger. Soon an eerie metamorphosis will occur that will permeate every fiber of New Crobuzon–and not even the Ambassador of Hell will challenge the malignant terror it evokes.

The blurb gets a few things right, namely that Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin, a brilliant but unfocused dabbler in several scientific pursuits, is the primary focus of the book. However, the rest sucks. So I’m going to write a few better descriptions that the good people of Del Rey are free to borrow in exchange for a slice of royalties.

A visit from a mutilated foreign stranger sends scientist Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin

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Artist unknown. Saved from Pinterest

careening down a dangerous path that leads through the twisted streets and various dens of criminal activity that is the city of New Crobuzon. Along the way, he’ll hatch a deadly public health threat from its pupa, disrupt the drug trade and its maniacal mobster kingpin, and confront the most fearsome menace of all: his own closest friend. As the hum of New Crobuzon is replaced by nightmare screams and its many alleys grow dark with fear, Isaac must risk everything to save the city that he loves.

See, THIS description pulls in the city of New Crobuzon itself, which represents a vivid backdrop to the tale, while implying a decent threat level that does not rope in the *entirely incidental* Ambassador of Hell.

However, there are some issues with this description, too. After all, the cast of characters in Perdido Street Station is expansive. Let’s see if we can’t introduce a couple other people.

 

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Artist unknown. Saved from Pinterest

A chilling misstep by a hapless scientist unleashes a fate worse than death on the city of New Crobuzon. Now Isaac  Dan der Grimnebuilin must bear the burden of his mistake and repair the damage before more of his friends die. Meanwhile, Isaac’s girlfriend, half-insect artist Lin, struggles with a commission that may have everything to do with the accident, while the mysterious wingless bird-man, Yagharek, wanders the city in search of his lost power of flight. Together, they will join forces with criminals and drug addicts, inter-dimensional demigods and monsters made of gears and wheels, only to face the difficult truth: it may already be too late…

This isn’t bad at all! See? Already better than that first blurb! But what it *doesn’t* capture is the Steampunk aesthetic of New Crobuzon and the roiling wave of political tension upon which the story bucks and sways for the duration of the book.

In a city that runs on both steam and thaumatergical magic, where the political elite soar in blimps and the polity ride in taxis pulled by machines that may yet become sentient, the punishment for transgression is worse than death. But that threat can’t equal the rewards: the scientist who discovers how to make a mutilated bird-man fly could generate unlimited energy and finally correct the many social ills of New Crobuzon. But when Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin goes too far, the consequences of his research reverberate through the twisted streets of brick and stone, even as far as the great copper thinking machine that hides in the city’s expansive dump and into dimensions where enormous forces communicate in transcendent poetry. All centers on the city’s hub and center of government: Perdido Street Station, from whence all trains travel and where all dangerous things end up sooner or later.

Et voila: you now have a decent idea of what Perdido Street Station is about. Therefore, you also have no excuse to not go and borrow it from the library today.

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Artist unknown. Saved from Curufea.com


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I Hate Fairyland

AKA “F**k Fairyland,” this obscenity-laced (well, fake obscenity-laced) gorefest is a shoo-in for fans of Deadpool and Tank Girl.

First of all, we have Gertrude. When Gert was six, she made a thoughtless wish and was instantly (and traumatically) transported to Fairyland, where the colors are brighter, the queen is made of clouds, and the only way out is an unfindable key. Which, of course, Gert is supposed to find. After 27 years of this nonsense, Gert has had enough. Maybe she never developed anger management skills. Maybe the diet of constant sugar has worn her personality down to a blackened nub. Maybe 27 years of being a six-year-old would drive anyone crazy. Regardless of the reason, Gert has become an unchecked homicidal terror who slaughters the fair folk with gleeful abandon. The queen is desperate to be rid of her…by any means necessary.

This book is a simple joy. It is also critically important to the safety of every living human. Every American should be given a copy on the day of their birth. It should be required reading in elementary, middle and high schools. College courses should be taught. Degrees should be given. This book is the blueprint for surviving a trip to a magical land. Not The Chronicles of Narnia. Not Harry Potter. This.

Allow me to explain.

Since time out of memory, fairies, which are amoral, shapeshifting beings made of pure magic, have been tricking humans. Sometimes, they have done this for fun, as you’ll see in the case of a sprite like Puck of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Other times, they settle for profit or political gain, as you’ll see in the case of Morgana le Fey of the Arthurian legends. But to a fairy, they’re fickle and easily distracted.

Except when they really, really want to get something done.

Remember, these are beings of 100% magic we’re talking about. They have no reason to care about cash because they can magic it up out of thin air. Human lifespans are blinks to them. When they’re even remotely interested in something that happens in the mortal world, that means there’s something up. Since we humans aren’t beings of pure magic, odds are decent that we have no idea what the hell is really going on. In the case of I Hate Fairyland, everyone in the magical kingdom wants Gert to find the key and return to the human world…but why?

Why bring a little human girl to Fairyland in the first place? To open the door to Earth, of course! Why can’t a fairy find the key and open the door themselves? Because they are magically inhibited from doing so, obvs. Why is that?

They lost a war. To us.

Look around you. Notice the lack of talking flies and capering fauns. Yet they feature prominently in our literature and, according to this invaluable tome, know nearly everything about Earth. Once, they were familiar with human society, enough to adopt sartorial traditions, lingustic foibles, and a taste for refined sugar. Now, they are gone without a trace. So is all their mischief: very little magically-enhanced gold-hiding, boot-switching or baby-stealing happens these days. As the world became increasingly wealthy, shod and conscious of child safety, even small mischiefs would have become a hitch in the system. That is why humanity defeated fairykind and locked them up in the disgustingly, ironically, maddeningly cute and harmless Fairyland. Fierce fairy warriors? Reduced to a stoner punchline. Their noble queen? Going stir-crazy. Their denizens? Confined. Jailed. Limited…to muffin-chomping Fairyland. And only a human can free them.

Free them to wreak their sweet, sweet revenge on the species that trapped them in Hell.

Gertie may seem awful. She may seem out of control. But by dramatically failing in her quest time and time again, she has saved humanity from a neon rainbow nightmare. By causing the doom of hundreds of fairies, Gert has cut down on the army that waits for a single gullible child to open the way. By distracting the queen with sheer hatred, she has once again saved us all. Gert is a hero.

Let’s treat her as such.

Also Read:

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Tank Girl, Book One by Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin

She drives a tank and does not care about your pain. She’s Tank Girl! From terrorizing her kangaroo boyfriend to blowing up your mom, she’s the best action the Outback has seen since the Apocalypse.

 

 

 

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Deadpool v. 1 by Gerry Duggan and Brian Posehn

The Merc with a Mouth is back again…and again…and again! Let’s amend that: the unkillable Merc with a Mouth is back to drive you crazy, win your heart, and make the chimichangas.

 

 


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Reading in a Non-Material World

Is this the real life? Is it just fantasy? These books call into question all that we know and experience, from the things we care about to the very air we breathe. These aren’t tales of parallel universes – instead, they deal with minds trapped in worlds within the world, embedded in realities that are as real as we believe them to be.

Image of itemReady Player One by Ernest Cline

The Earth is a wreck. The cities are miserable places. Being alive in general isn’t a great experience. Luckily, there’s virtual reality! Plug into OASIS, where knowledge of pop culture and classic video games can earn you vast wealth and save you from your bleak life…or put you directly in the cross hairs of ruthless enemies.

 

 

 

 

Image of itemSophie’s World by Jostein Gaardner

Part philosophy primer and part coming-of-age novel, this unique book is not to be missed. Young Sophie tries to catch herself blinking in the mirror, but she’s never fast enough…until one day. As she learns about philosophy from her mysterious tutor, she begins to question the reality of the world she sees.

 

 

 

 

Animal Man by Grant Morrison

To make a long story short, comic book hero Animal Man, who can borrow the abilities of any animal, realizes that his life is an elaborate fiction engineered for maximum drama by an
unscrupulous comic book writer. When he does, he needs to come to terms with his existence. Does he reconcile himself to being fictional? Or does he confront his creator and demand justice for the death of his family?

 

 

 

Image of itemThe Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

In a world where literary authors have the same social status as rock stars, Jane Eyre is a literary enforcer. Her job is routine: stop militant Baconians from bombing performances of Shakespeare plays, detect criminal forgeries of Byronic verse, and things like that. But when someone starts kidnapping literary characters from within the pages of their own books, she’ll need to go deeper into her books than ever before!

 

 

Image of itemSnow Crash by Neal Stephenson

Any one of a number of cyberpunk novels could qualify for world-within-a-world status, but Snow Crash is one of the most famous. Hiro is a pizza boy and hacker, skilled with swords and code alike. But there’s an ancient, deadly neurolinguistic virus moving through the virtual world, and it threatens to end the fun…permanently. Only Hiro can uncover the plan of the dangerous religious fanatic behind it all.

 


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Review: David Wong’s “This Book is Full of Spiders: Seriously, Dude, Don’t Touch It”

ea_fullofspiders.jpg

No joke, man. Just don’t touch that book. The spiders are there, and they’re invisible, and they definitely want to eat your flesh, which they will do whether you see them or not. Which you won’t. Dave does, though, and so does his buddy John. Having developed psychic superpowers as a result of their drug habit, Dave and John are on the front lines of yet another otherworldly invasion. This time, they’re doing an even poorer job of fixing things than they did last time. In fact, they’re actively causing the apocalypse to pick up speed. This time, there might be no stopping it.

Wong’s style has definitely matured since John Dies in the End, his first novel. This book was way, way better structured, and while I’d lose the plot now and then in John Dies, I was pretty confident that the story was going forward all the way through This Book Is Full Of Spiders. His prose has improved, too, though This Book is still not exactly poetry. That’s really OK: it’s a story about two gun-happy Midwestern dudes hanging out on the lower end of the economic spectrum and fighting cthonic horrors with their drug-induced mind powers. If this were Shakespeare, it would suck.

Because it is not Shakespeare, it’s a pretty great read. It’s exciting, ramps the tension up fast and doesn’t let off, and delivers gags in the right places. There are a few loose ends, however, that disappointed me a bit. For one thing, throughout the book, people keep implying that Dave, or his buddy John, may be infected with mind-controlling brain spiders. They do come into contact with the spiders multiple times, and even black out around them, which would give those spiders ample opportunity to settle in. On top of that, they eventually meet infected people who are basically normal, who either never develop symptoms or who can manage their condition, and whose infected status is completely undetectable. The fact that the characters kept accidentally saving the monsters – from bombing, or by letting them out of a house, or if they turned out to be an adorable/creepy/innocent little girl, suggested that they were unknowingly under the influence of the spiders the whole time. But no dice – the book ends quietly and with no big reveal. Maybe the principal characters were just passing the idiot ball around. That they are indeed idiots is not necessarily bad for the book. You’ve just got to sort of turn your brain off to enjoy the madness.

That said, who needs brains? It seems like they’re just there to get infected by spiders. Enjoy this hole-filled piece of borderline bizarro zombie fun and try not to get any blood on your clothing.

 

Also read:

https://methuen.mvlc.org/opac/extras/ac/jacket/large/r/1191984John Dies at the End by David Wong

Dave and John are just normal guys until they take a drug code named Soy Sauce. Now able to see ghosts and other things that ordinary people can’t, Dave and John become paranormal investigators.

https://methuen.mvlc.org/opac/extras/ac/jacket/large/r/954861Gil’s All-Fright Diner by A. Lee Martinez

Duke and Earl are ordinary guys in a broken-down pickup truck, if by “ordinary guys” you mean “a skinny vampire” and “a huge werewolf” stuck in a town with a “zombie problem.”

https://methuen.mvlc.org/opac/extras/ac/jacket/large/r/1417567Apocalypse Cow by Michael Logan

Forget the cud. They want blood. Britain’s cows have been transformed into sneezing, lustful vampires and only a trio of deadbeats can stop them!

 

Also watch:

https://methuen.mvlc.org/opac/extras/ac/jacket/large/r/1418527John Dies at the End starring Rob Mayes

Closely following the book, this film also stars Paul Giamatti.

 

https://methuen.mvlc.org/opac/extras/ac/jacket/large/r/1324195Tucker & Dale vs. Evil starring Tyler Labine

Tucker and Dale really aren’t evil – they just look the part. A Canadian-American comedy masterpiece!

 

https://methuen.mvlc.org/opac/extras/ac/jacket/large/r/1542833Odd Thomas starring Anton Yelchin

A small-town fry cook sees ghosts everywhere – and then there’s the new guy in town, who might be the bringer of the apocalypse!

 

Also play:

https://methuen.mvlc.org/opac/extras/ac/jacket/large/r/1241077House of the Dead 2 and 3

Fight off hordes of the undead in this popular first person shooter for Wii!